Sunday, February 14, 2016

Wow! A Mesoamericanist Agrees with Llama and Alpaca – Part I

In the Interpreter, A Journal of Mormon Scripture, an article by Wade E. Miller (far left) and Matthew Roper (left) entitled “Animals in the Book of Mormon: Challenges and Perspectives” (Interpreter Foundation), these two authors go to great lengths to confuse the issue of the animals mentioned in the Book of Mormon to the point where, if one accepts what they have written, one would have to question the accuracy of the translation itself.
    To place this in its proper understanding, Miller and Roper are both avid believers that Mesoamerica is the sight of the Land of Promise. In fact, as a reference of this, they write: “Most LDS scholars, recently reporting on the subject, believe that the lands occupied by Book of Mormon peoples were within what is now known as Mesoamerica.” They then use as a reference John L. Sorenson (An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1985), and John E. Clark (Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book, 2013); “Archaeological Trends and Book of Mormon Origins,” Brigham Young University Studies 44/4 (2005), 83-104), and Brant A. Gardner, (Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Kofford Books, 2007).
    All three of these individuals, Sorenson, Clark and Gardner, are avowed Mesoamericanists, and teach and write extensively about Mesoamerica as the sight of the Land of Promise. It is not an effective scholastic method of referencing your point when you use others of your own view, all professors connected with Mesoamerican Studies, that are Mesoamerican theorists themselves, as a reference for “most LDS.”
    However, setting that aside, let us get into their commentary on Cureloms and Cumoms, the two unknown animals mentioned in Ether 9:19. As they write:
    Of all the animals named in the Book of Mormon, cureloms and cumoms have to be the most peculiar – and mysterious. While all the other animals seem familiar to us, these two definitely are not. Apparently cureloms and cumoms were not animals known to Joseph Smith as well.”
This has to be a given since Joseph was unable to connect any known animal to him, a farmer and son of a farmer, in order to use their current name. As a result, he used the name that appeared on the plates as he translated, as he did with the grains neas and sheum (Mosiah 9:9), and with the metal ziff (Mosiah 11:3, 8).
    Continuing with Miller and Roper: “It seems that they were outside his realm of experience. Quite possibly these are extinct forms.”
    If they were extinct, then their inclusion as animals the Jaredites brought with them would not make much sense being included into the record. After all, the purpose of the Jaredtes bringing animals, other than for their own use in a land void of animals after the Flood, was to repopulate animals into the Western Hemisphere for future peoples, thus it should be assumed with significant confidence that the animals they brought were exactly those animals that are mentioned in the scriptural record: “all manner of cattle, of oxen, and cows, and of sheep, and of swine, and of goats, and also many other kinds of animals which were useful for the food of man. And they also had horses, and asses, and there were elephants and cureloms and cumoms; all of which were useful unto man, and more especially the elephants and cureloms and cumoms” (Ether 9:18-19). These names, of course, other than cureloms and cumoms, would have been animals Joseph Smith, as a farmer, would have known and understood. To suggest other animals were meant, as Miller and Roper do in their article, and other theorists do, especially Mesoamerican theorists, is without merit.
    Continuing with Miller and Roper: “What could these two animals have been?  Well, they had to have been animals that lived in Book of Mormon lands, ostensibly in Mesoamerica, and during the time that the Jaredites lived there.”
    Ostensibly means apparently or presumably, and shows Miller and Roper’s lack of objectivity and their firm  belief in Mesoamerica being the Land of Promise. However, setting that aside for a moment, though it becomes an issue later, let us continue with Miller and Roper, “LDS archaeologist, John Sorenson was of the opinion (1992) that cureloms and cumoms were probably large animals. This seems reasonable as in Ether 9:18-19 they are grouped with the elephant, and designated as being especially useful. Among other things, they likely were beasts of burdens. Using limited criteria we will try to narrow the search for identifications to the most probable animals. One relatively large animal currently living in Mesoamerica (and also now living in South America and Southeast Asia), but doubtfully known to Joseph Smith, is the tapir.”
The tapir, shown in size comparison with man, is any of several large, stout, three-toed ungulates of the family Tapiridae, of Central and South America, the Malay Peninsula, and Sumatra, somewhat resembling swine and having a long, flexible snout: all species are threatened or endangered. Listed as a game species, it has little value to man other than as food, and the thick hide is used for sandals and harnesses—it does not haul, carry, cannot be ridden, nor used in any way as a beast of burden 
    Miller and Roper: “In the past this animal had a much greater northward geographic range in North America. It lived all through Mexico and north well into the United States. At least one species of Pleistocene tapir somewhat exceeded the living form in size. A large extant individual can grow to 600 pounds or more, and reach a height of three and one-half feet. The problem with this animal qualifying as a curelom or cumom is its usefulness. They are not noted as an especially good food item and more importantly are not easily tamed for use.” 
    Thus, Sorenson’s suggestion of the Tapir falls short of Moroni’s explanation of its value: “they also had horses, and asses, and there were elephants and cureloms and cumoms; all of which were useful unto man, and more especially the elephants and cureloms and cumom” (Ether 9:19, emphasis mine).
    Other animals are also suggested by Miller and Roper: “Another animal to consider is the American Pronghorn (often mistakenly called an antelope). Its current geographic range is from Canada to central Mexico. They are occasionally tamed, and sometimes even semi-domesticated. However, even if they were tamed, it is hard to imagine them being used for any serious type of work. There is apparently no record of this. These are only deer-sized animals, which includes extinct species. While known from northern Mexico, it appears that they did not inhabit Mesoamerica proper. They are a plains type of animal.
    It appears that in writing this article, Miller and Roper seem to be introducing every animal that could conceivably be considered, though they just as quickly discount them as possible candidates for the cureloms and cumoms, as they did in the introduction and discount of:
The edentates, or xenarthrans (A group of placental mammals, extant today only in the Americas and represented by anteaters, tree sloths, and armadillos) as they are known scientifically, are a relatively diverse group of New World mammals. With the exception of the armadillo which ranges into the southwestern United States, these animals presently live in Mesoamerica south to South America. Anteaters and tree sloths belong to this group. All these are animals with which Joseph Smith would probably have had no acquaintance. While living forms are all relatively small, many extinct species were large. Some of these ground sloths lived in Mesoamerica to the end of the Pleistocene, and probably longer. Even if these mammals had lived long enough to have been known by Jaredites, their role as a curelom or cumom is highly unlikely. Based on brain size (determined from endocranial dimensions of the skull), ground sloths would not likely have been sufficiently intelligent to train for work. Additionally, they walked on the back of their “hands” and feet based on their foot structure. The locomotion of these large beasts must have been very slow and awkward. With these factors in mind it’s difficult to see how they could have been very useful animals to man.” 
    Having extinguished just about every known animal in the area of Central and South America, Miller and Roper now turn to the llama and alpaca.
(See the next post, “Wow! A Mesoamericanist Agrees with Llama and Alpaca – Part II,” as Miller and Roper now turn to the South American camelid as an answer, at least in part, of the question regarding what animals the cureloms and cumoms were as described in Ether)

No comments:

Post a Comment